Read an Excerpt
Lie by Night
By Cathy Marlowe, Terese Ramin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Cathy Morrison
All rights reserved.
Three days later
Emma clutched her buttery soft travel bag in her lap as her guide tied his boat to a well-built dock that seemed out of place on this remote island deep in the south Atlantic.
The words of the anonymous letter she'd received yesterday raced through her mind. She'd found the flower seller on touristy James Island. When money hadn't convinced him to bring her to a place the locals called Dark Island, she'd resorted to tears. Whatever worked.
Her brother, Jacob, had disappeared seven days ago. Courageous and daring, he'd pursued a career in the military before joining Bryson Consulting, current front for work so top secret she didn't know precisely which branch — or agency — claimed him.
She'd chosen the safe and stable life of a college professor, where the greatest danger lay in university politics and the quest for tenure. She and Jacob had been alone in the world since the death of their parents on 9-11. They'd responded to the tragedy in vastly different ways, Jacob seeking justice and the moral high ground, while she burrowed into a secure world where the quest for knowledge took her no farther than her laptop or the NYU Library.
For the first time, she regretted her choice. She knew full well she was unprepared for this mission. Thank God Jacob insisted she take self-defense training each year, because that and her brain were all she had to see her through. Although her brain served her well in her career, it was woefully uneducated in search and rescue.
She rose, forcing her fingers to relax, and set her beautiful, apricot-colored bag in her seat. A gift from her brother, she'd clenched it like a talisman as the slow boat meandered across the ocean to this little island. He'd been urging her to get out and see the world.
Well, here I am little brother.
"You ...?" The old man gestured toward the desolate shore with one gnarled finger, a deep frown on his weathered brow. He swung his hand back to his face, scratching the whiskers on his chin. His broken English might challenge her comprehension, but his expression conveyed his message just fine. Are you crazy?
She nodded as she slipped a band from her ponytail, not caring that she confirmed both her desired location and her state of mind. She captured the brown strands and rebound them in a tight knot at her nape. Was it crazy when you had no choice? She grabbed her black stocking cap from the side pouch of her travel bag and hid her hair under the jersey fabric. Her navy rain jacket hid her slim frame. Jeans and hiking boots — the real, steel-toed kind designed to protect your feet from rough terrain — completed her ensemble. She was as ready as she'd ever be.
She nodded again to the man who'd brought her to the island in his rickety old skiff. It was a miracle they'd arrived at all.
"I'll be back. You wait?" She motioned in what she hoped was a convincing gesture of don't leave.
She locked gazes with the old man. She bit the inside of her cheek as she waited. Intelligence shone in his dark eyes. She felt her chances of returning being weighed. The man nodded.
"Bad, bad place." He grunted the words and then settled in the captain's chair. Somehow he managed to appear sturdy and reliable in the wobbly, wooden seat.
She smiled her thanks and stepped from the boat. The rocky shore ran only one hundred yards in length. The line of trees that ringed the beach beckoned atop a steep slope a mere fifty yards away. She understood the old man's uncertainty, first back on the mainland and now as he released her into this unknown. No matter how glorious the foliage or how brightly the climbing sun lit the sky, a disturbing darkness emanated from the small island.
She squared her shoulders, resolute. This remote island held answers she desperately needed. Brushing her hand against the zippered, inside pocket where her instructions rested, she forced one step after another until her reluctant feet settled into a steady rhythm. She didn't need to read the instructions; she'd memorized them hours ago on her flight from the United States.
Slightly winded by the time she reached the top of the hill, Emma paused to breathe deeply of the sunlit air. She ran five miles a day, and this climb posed no true challenge to her fitness. She didn't need a doctor to tell her that adrenaline — and though she hated to admit it, fear — fueled her breathlessness as she approached the tree line and stood before the mouth of the path. Worrying her lip, she entered the forest.
The world transformed. The beach might have been lonely, but the mid-morning sun had warmed the abandoned earth. Here in the jungle, only the smallest rays of sunlight penetrated. Sound seemed oddly muffled and yet magnified at the same time.
As she shoved the twisted vines and branches out of her way, she was glad she'd worn thin gloves, even though the temperature didn't quite warrant them. They featured textured palms and finger and thumb pads that allowed her to interact with her touch screen. She swallowed. Unfortunately, her phone had stopped registering any service long before they reached the island.
Brushing low-hanging branches from her face, she journeyed deeper and deeper into the artificial twilight. A bird of prey screeched in the distance, startling her. Something whispered through the grass behind her. She twisted around, bumping her head on the branch she'd just shoved aside. Large protruding eyes stared at her. She forced down a scream.
A lizard longer than her forearm blinked lazily. Chills ran down her spine. She hated bugs. And, apparently, lizards. Shuddering, she turned and hurried along the dirt trail.
She stumbled once, then again, despite her careful steps. Saw grass grew in abandon, determined to fully claim the neglected trail. Large, green fronds dipped gracefully overhead, the tips brushing her hat as she maneuvered toward the heart of the island. Something slithered to her right, and a slick, scaly body brushed her cheek. She jerked to the side, tripping over a rock hidden amidst the grass, and sprawled on her jean-clad butt.
Instinctively, she thrust her right hand into the pocket of her rain jacket and yanked out her Mace. She pointed in the direction of the hideous beast. An evil moss-covered branch drifted back and forth in the faint breeze that penetrated the undergrowth, mocking her pounding heart.
A freaking branch.
Unmoving, she sat there, the spray clenched in her trembling hand. The sounds of the rain forest faded as blood rushed through her ears.
She released the hot pink canister. Designer pepper spray, her standard birthday gift from a brother consumed with her safety. It zipped back into her jacket courtesy of the homemade, retractable string she'd jerry-rigged using her university ID. The string anchored the spray in her pocket. If the old man could see the ingenious leash she'd created, he wouldn't worry she was crazy. He'd be certain.
She rose from the ground, brushing dirt from her faded jeans.
Squaring her shoulders, she ignored the call of relative safety the old boat offered. Other-worldly light filtered through the leaves, illuminating her way and taunting her at the same time. She'd never felt this completely isolated.
She should have insisted the gardener come with her, but the strange, little man made it clear en route that he refused to step foot on the island. She hadn't completely understood his broken English, but the gist of it seemed to be bad mojo. Hell, she knew all about bad mojo. She was the queen of bad mojo.
The only good mojo in her twenty-seven years had been Jacob. He was her best friend, her only family. And he was missing. His last communication with her had arrived in a package along with her birthday Mace. Using a silly code they'd invented as children, he warned her that he'd discovered something frightening. Something deadly.
There'd been one more item in the package. A microchip hidden in the base of the Mace that he'd promised to retrieve within 48 hours. He'd never arrived. With no idea how to figure out what was on the chip, her woefully insufficient plan consisted of keeping it safe and with her — and trusting no one.
She turned a corner and stopped. The trail opened into a large clearing. At the back of the open ground stood her objective, a two-story, metal warehouse rising in the midst of verdant foliage. An abomination in the midst of tropical splendor. Similar to the path, the surrounding forest crept into what must have once been a pristine circle in which the unattractive warehouse held the questionable place of honor.
This was it. Looking around the open area and finding no evidence of human presence, she stepped cautiously into the clearing.
An eerie silence settled around her. Was it her presence that silenced the raucous birds? Her scent that drove the four-legged mammals deeper into the forest? Or something more sinister?
She unzipped her jacket partway and reached inside the internal pocket to read her instructions once again. Although she'd memorized it, still the message demanded to be read.
To find Jacob ...
Tell no one.
Jacob's life depends on it.
Jacob's life. Emma tucked the note back into her pocket and zipped it closed. She bit the inside of her lip and took a step forward. Then another. And another. She was here for answers, and nothing, no snakes or insects or fear, was going to stop her. Ha! She ate fear for breakfast.
A furry mammal broke from the undergrowth and darted across the clearing. Her heart climbed into her throat. Okay, so maybe fear occasionally took a bite out of her.
The building cast an ominous shadow that swallowed her whole as she advanced.
She scanned the metal siding. A cold shiver ran down her spine. Something was wrong.
The sound of pounding feet barely registered before strong fingers wrapped around her arm and jerked her away from the building. Her startled cry ended abruptly as her feet left the ground. Her body lofted into the air. She glimpsed dirt and clumps of grass just before impact.
Strong arms cushioned Emma's landing, wrapping around her to take the brunt of the fall. The arms imprisoned her as the stranger rolled them across the clearing. Kicking, she fought to free herself. She struggled to reach her trusty Mace.
A massive explosion shook the clearing, and the rolling stopped. The stranger pressed her into the dirt as debris rained down around them. Stunned, she ceased to fight.
Panic flared to life. The warehouse! What if it held more than information? What if Jacob was in there?
She renewed her struggle for freedom, desperately trying to see the warehouse. "Get off," she hissed as the crackling of fire and smell of smoke fueled her strength. "I have to get him. I have to save ..." When her furious bucking and pushing failed to dislodge the body, Emma turned her head sideways and bit the hand cradling her face.
"Damn it!" a deep, male voice growled. "There's no one in there. Calm down."
Emma froze. She knew that voice.
His weight shifted, and she turned her head to stare into the bluest eyes she'd ever seen. Eyes she remembered quite well from six months before.
The woman crushed beneath him sputtered. Dark brown eyes flashed — and not with the passion he'd imagined in his dreams.
What the hell? Cole Stevens stared into gorgeous, dark mahogany irises ringed with the faintest amber. The subtle golden aura steeped her eyes in mystery. Oh yeah, these eyes he remembered well. These eyes he'd dreamed of ... had nightmares about. Emma.
After he set the timer on the explosives, he'd retreated to a tree on a small hill a short distance away to watch. He'd anticipated company after the blast.
When the lone figure first stepped into view, he'd known she was a woman despite her oversized jacket. She moved with a feminine grace that was hard to miss. He'd slipped from the tree where he perched and busted his butt to get her out of harm's way before the explosion.
Sure, he'd been concerned about her safety, but he also wanted to know why she was here. What she knew.
Because anyone who ventured near the godforsaken warehouse had information he needed.
He'd put the plan in motion, thought he planned for every contingency. But he'd never imagined Emma, the woman who'd gotten away before she'd ever really been his, would be the one to walk into his trap.
The bundle of fury beneath him shoved hard at his chest. His eyes narrowed. Emma.
Cole rested most of his weight on his forearms, his chest and legs pinning her to the ground to keep her from fleeing. Damn it! Her presence could only mean one thing. Despite his wish that it were otherwise, Jacob was smack in the middle of this mess.
"What are you doing here?" He bit the words out, trying to ignore the way light from the flames danced across her hair. An ugly, black jersey cap hung part-way off her head. Specks of dirt and twigs clung to the fabric and invaded the tresses that pulled free from the strands captured at her neck.
"Me?" Brown eyes sparked. "What are you doing here?" Her eyes sliced sidewise, peering over his arm at the burning building. She squirmed against him. "Did you do this?" Her voice rose on a note of hysteria.
Ah, damn, were those tears?
Cole loosened his arms, allowing Emma the freedom to place both hands against his chest and shove hard. He rolled off her and stood, then reached down to help her up.
Ignoring his outstretched hand, she struggled to her feet, her gaze focused on the destruction in front of her. "Are you certain there was no one in there?"
He cast watchful eyes around the clearing before returning his attention to her. The color had faded from her angry, red cheeks, leaving only pallor. Her eyes burned dark against her pale face. "I'm certain."
She nodded, swaying slightly on her feet. When he moved to steady her, she didn't seem to notice.
Together, they stared at the warehouse. The explosion had decimated the building, imploding it so the damage remained contained in the center of the clearing. Reduced to a pile of molten metal and crackling debris, the remains burned brightly.
The smoke rose through the late morning air, sending a message to anyone who watched. Cole nodded in grim satisfaction. One less place for Alistair Forrester to resurrect his deadly business.
Emma turned her head to stare at him, tears still glinting in her eyes.
"What have you done?" Her voice, childlike in the early morning air, stirred unwelcome guilt in his chest. She stepped toward the burning building.
He thought he heard her whisper, "Jacob."
He captured her arm again and pulled her back. He hadn't slept in twenty-four hours. He had no desire to hurt her, no desire to chase her if she ran. And he sure didn't need to feel guilty about how their fledgling relationship ended six months ago, only hours after their initial meeting sparked a rare and powerful connection between them.
Besides, he had questions of his own. "Why are you here?"
She jerked free and shoved her palm hard against his chest. Her lips set in a firm line. The child departed; the angry woman returned full force.
His hand shot out to capture her forearm in a tighter grip. "How did you find this place? Who else is here?" He pulled her up against his side. He surveyed the area, his focus shifting from the woman to the danger that lurked on this piece of land the residents of nearby James Island referred to only as Dark Island.
* * *
Emma fumed. The implication that she couldn't have come here alone, that she was ... what? Too stupid? Too weak? Somehow incapable of handling things alone? Cole's insinuation brought welcome anger to chase away her despair at the destruction around her.
Who was he to think she couldn't take care of herself? Or her brother. She might lack the combat savvy Cole and Jacob possessed, but she was a highly intelligent and resourceful woman.
Aside from the iron grip on her arm, the idiot man now ignored her completely.
"Listen, you Neanderthal ..."
Cole clapped his free hand over her mouth and hissed. "Did you bring people with you?" She barely heard the words over the sounds of the fire.
Emma glared and said nothing.
Warm air blew across Emma's cheek at Cole's whispered curse. If his mouth wasn't so close to her ear, she would have missed the obscenity. His gaze swept the clearing.
Excerpted from Lie by Night by Cathy Marlowe, Terese Ramin. Copyright © 2014 Cathy Morrison. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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